Just outside Hathersage, at the end of a very long dark track, we found Thorpe Farm. After trying most of the bunkbarn units, Chris found The Byre, labelled 'Saunders' with Geoff and Diana already installed. It was well-equipped accommodation; the main drawback seemed to be that four bunks in the living space had to contend with the fridge going on and off all night but Nick found a way to silence it on Saturday night.
During the evening, there was much chat about climbing and where to go next day. I too was under pressure to join the climbing party though I always feel March is too early and probably too cold for climbing. Therese and I agreed 15/16°C to be a minimum temperature for climbing. Amazingly, the keenness of the evening translated into early rising and by 7:45am I felt compelled by peer pressure to get up. I stuck my head outside to confirm it was grey, dull and probably cold – too cold for climbing – but I couldn't help feeling that the trilling, bubbling curlew call nearby was telling me it was a spring day.
At 8:45 am we were ready to leave for Stanage. Darryl turned up just in the nick of time to catch up on what was going on. He and Graham walked to Stanage, Chris and I took James C and most of the rest of the group found their way there too.
By 9:15 a.m. when we plonked down our gear at the popular end of the cliff there were hints of sunshine and it was clear we were protected at the foot of the cliff from the strong easterly wind. We climbed a few Diffs and Chris soon found it was indeed freezing on the rock, holding on, placing gear and sitting on the top belaying the two of us. For our part, James and I tried to climb quickly and without holding onto the rocks too much! James also had a go at his first gritstone leads and Chris guided him through making belays at the top.
We soon noticed the car park was full and the crag rather busy. What would it be like on a summer's day? We found other pairs and groups in our party enjoying the first climb of the season to varying degrees! Having been highly sceptical of the whole idea, with more sun and protection from the wind, I have to say I was warmer that day than I was last August bank holiday! I think I was even enjoying myself!
After lunch, Chris and James moved along the cliffs to join the others. By now the sun had gone in and I decided walking was preferable so I went off with Darryl and Graham to complete their walking loop back to the farm via the Cowper Stone, Higgar Tor and Hathersage on a mission to get Graham some garlic. It was fun to link together lots of known spots by walking.
Back at the bunkbarn we began preparing a communal/shared meal semi-coordinated by Graham. He had hoped that by making spaghetti and tomato sauce sound unattractive at the Wednesday evening pub meet we wouldn't take him up on it! But in the event we did and it was an excellent tomato and herb sauce, thank you Graham. A wonderful homemade squash soup was provided by James, seasonal steamed vegetables from Richard G's veg box, salad from Abbi, pies and quiches from Geoff and Diana, rhubarb from my allotment accompanied by custard and a lovely cheeseboard from Therese. It was quite a gourmet meal. Darryl was joined by Alison so we were able to catch up on their life in the Peaks.
It also transpired that Richard P, Julie, Ingrid and Jim had slunk off from Stanage during the afternoon to attend a personal masterclass with E11 climber Dave MacLeod at Sheffield's Foundry Wall. Nursing aching muscles and worn out skin on their fingers, they were full of personal strategies to improve their climbing and had clearly learnt a lot. Watch out for them at the wall and outdoors! Budding E11-ers!
Putting the clocks forward on Saturday night gave most of us an excuse to go to bed early, tired from all the unfamiliar fresh air and exercise. Having to leave the bunkbarn by 10 a.m. on Sunday added to the pressure to get in the right amount of beauty sleep.
We pretty much managed to leave by 10 a.m. and there was a distinct lack of faff going on – these young climbers are very focused. A large party headed off to Burbage to try out their tired arms and new skills on some bouldering problems and others tagged along hoping to learn something from them.
Chris and I walked from the farm via Bamford edge to Ladybower Reservoir. The grey dull weather over the moors with several curlew calling and being mobbed by lapwings was quite atmospheric. From Ladybower we went over Win Hill where the sun came out and turned it into a lovely afternoon as we came back through Thornhill, past Bamford Mill and back over the field to the farm. Once again it was good to link places together and be able to walk without car assistance. It was a great spring weekend and there was no sign of the snow that has a reputation for turning up on spring Peak meets.